Germany’s plan to transform its electricity system to one reliant on renewable energy sources as it phases out nuclear energy could cost up to €1 trillion, German energy and environment minister Peter Altmaier has publicly admitted. Feed-in tariffs which provide long-term price guarantees to solar and wind companies could account for over two-thirds of the cost.

German engineering giant Bosch said Friday that it is abandoning its solar energy business, because there is no way to make it economically viable amid overcapacity and huge price pressure in the industry. The German solar power industry has been hit by falling subsidies, weaker sales and increasingly stiff price competition, especially by Chinese manufacturers. This move came after German industrial conglomerate Siemens announced last October that it would give up its loss-making solar business.

China’s Suntech, once the world’s biggest solar manufacturer, went bankrupt this week. The company had debt of $2 billion and defaulted on a $541 million bond that matured last week. The company was a victim of solar cell over-capacity and trade actions by the US and Europe to reduce Chinese imports of solar cells. Solar cell prices that as recently as October 2010 were $1.50 a watt are now less than a third of that price, costing about 38 cents this month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Australian government said it was maintaining its Renewable Energy Target to ensure at least 20% of the country’s electricity comes from sources such as solar and wind power by 2020.

India is now the world’s fourth largest energy consumer of crude oil and petroleum products after the US, China and Russia, a new analysis by the US Energy Information Agency says. India’s primary energy consumption has more than doubled from 1990 to 2011.

Russian state oil firm Rosneft and Venezuela’s PDVSA have agreed to form a partnership to exploit a Venezuelan crude oil field with estimated reserves of 40 billion barrels. The field is expected to produce 400,000 b/d of crude oil in five years’ time.

Crude oil transport by rail in the US is expected to hit the 700,000 b/d mark by the end of the year. Much of that increase is fed by crude oil production in the state of North Dakota where output has surpassed existing oil pipeline capacity.

Recent pipeline expansions have helped the Marcellus shale area in the Eastern US reach a production rate of more than 7 billion cubic feet per day to become the largest natural gas-producing area in that country.

Fracking isn’t just for shale. In Russia, producers are importing techniques from the U.S. to squeeze billions of dollars of extra oil from Soviet-era fields. TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest producer, will use hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling in almost half the wells it sinks this year, a six fold increase in just two years.

The US manufacturing sector is using less energy based on trends set during the last decade, the country’s Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported. Energy consumption from the manufacturing sector declined 17% from 2002 to 2010. Gross output from the sector declined 3% during the same period. “These data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output,” the EIA stated. “The significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the manufacturing output mix.”

Demand for natural gas in the UK soared during the coldest March in 50 years. This has led to a supply shortage, and some experts to suggest that Britain’s gas supplies could actually run out by the 8th of April, forcing them to import from Norway and Russia at far higher prices.

Last year saw a dramatic increase in the amount of UK electricity generated using coal power, preliminary figures from The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show. Coal power overtook gas to become the biggest single source of UK electricity in 2012. Coal produced 42.8% of the UK’s electricity in 2012, a rather startling rise from 2011, when it provided just 30%. In 2011, gas produced 40% of UK electricity – so gas and coal have basically swapped places in just a year.

UK families are going to keep paying more for energy. The country’s Office for Budget Responsibility predicts a 7% rise in energy costs for families in winter this year and a 3% rise next year. Average bills are currently £1,420 per family for natural gas and electricity, signalling an increase of £99 is on the way this year followed by a £46 rise in 2014. UK inflation is being driven by rising wholesale electricity and gas prices. The Office also said green taxes and other environmental policies would probably add 2% to electricity bills and 0.5% to natural gas bills annually until the year 2020.

UK motorists face a potential rise in transportation fuel costs equivalent to almost 3p a litre as oil companies increase the blend of ethanol in petrol to meet EU sustainability targets.  From April 1st, 5% of all road fuel sold in Britain must come from sustainable sources of renewable energy to satisfy government commitments under the Renewable Energy Directive. This means that most petrol sold will contain 5% ethanol.
with h/t Tom Whipple


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